Mohamed Salah became Liverpool’s record Premier League scorer as they put the boot into Manchester United’s chances of joining the title race with a humiliating and historic 7-0 mauling at Anfield.
The future of the Reds’ forward line paved the way as Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo scored twice to demolish their arch-rivals with a result which was the largest victory in the fixture’s 211-match history.
Three of their goals came in a seven-minute spell either side of half-time which left the visitors, who have not won on this ground since Jurgen Klopp’s first encounter with them in January 2016, reeling.
The soon-to-be the last man standing of Liverpool’s famed front three Salah then provided a timely reminder of the standards that pair have to meet with two goals of his own – either side of a Nunez header – to go past Robbie Fowler as the club’s record Premier League scorer with his 128th and 129th goals.
Substitute Roberto Firmino, who on Friday told the club he would not be seeking a contract extension and would end his eight-year stay in the summer, applied the finishing touches with the seventh.
Last season Liverpool won 5-0 at Old Trafford and 4-0 at home but that was a side who were competing for an unprecedented quadruple.
This version has struggled for most of the season but appear to be gathering ominous momentum at just the right time.
Even overturning a 5-2 Champions League first-leg deficit to Real Madrid next week now does not seem as impossible.
Erik ten Hag’s side had lost just three of their last 22 league matches and their haul of 23 points since the World Cup resumption was the most of any team but by the end, with chants of ‘Ole’ rolling off the Kop, former United defender Gary Neville said they had played like schoolboys.
They had arrived looking to force their way into the reckoning at the top but defeat left them nine points behind second-placed Manchester City and 14 adrift of leaders Arsenal and even with a match in hand talk of a title bid now looks fanciful.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) March 5, 2023
Liverpool, however, are upwardly mobile as 13 points from the last 15 and a fifth successive clean sheet has them breathing down the neck of fourth-placed Tottenham, just three points behind with a match in hand and Spurs still to visit Anfield.
In an almost symbolic handing over of the baton Gakpo, now occupying a similar deeper-lying forward role to Firmino but with potentially more goal threat, seized the occasion with the important opening goal. And what a brilliant one it was.
Just two minutes before half-time Andy Robertson’s through-ball inside Fred allowed the Netherlands international to cut inside Raphael Varane and chop back onto his right foot to caress a shot past David De Gea.
It was Liverpool’s first shot on target but would not be their last as two minutes after the break 19-year-old Harvey Elliott started the move which led to his assist for the second goal.
Having intercepted a pass deep in United territory the ball was moved on to Fabinho who chipped over the back four to Salah and while his cross was blocked by Luke Shaw, Elliott reacted quickest to whip a cross for Nunez to head home from close range.
Three minutes later the game was over as a contest as Jordan Henderson collected Bruno Fernandes’ poor cross aimed at no-one, Gakpo then picked up the ball just outside his own penalty area and released Salah.
The Egypt international teased Lisandro Martinez, eventually putting the World Cup winner on the turf, as he played in the on-rushing Gakpo to clip over De Gea.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker’s mis-control briefly gave Fernandes the hope of pulling one back quickly but the ball was scrambled clear and when Nunez broke in a four-on-three there was only likely to be one outcome.
The Uruguay international’s first attempt at a pass was blocked by Scott McTominay but he picked out Salah with the rebound, deflected off the United midfielder, and he lashed home off the underside of the crossbar with his weaker right foot.
He was the first Liverpool player to score in six consecutive appearances in all competitions against Manchester United but he was not finished there and with visiting fans heading for the exit Nunez’s clever backwards header from Henderson’s cross had the crowd demanding demanding “We want six.”
Salah duly delivered with his record-breaking goal, courtesy of a fortunate rebound off Firmino before the substitute had the final say in the 88th minute to inflict United’s heaviest defeat since losing 7-0 to Wolves on Boxing Day 1931.